Before you start to read Shakespeare's plays, you will
want to take a look at some of the language uses that
might stand in your way of understanding the script.
In his book, Unlocking
Shakespeare's Language, Randal Robinson breaks the
language barriers into three main categories:
Shakespeare's Unusual Arrangements of Words, Shakespeare's
Troublesome Omissions & Words Not Quite Our Own.
This guide will briefly cover each of these areas, but you
will also want to ask your teacher to get a copy of this
great resource by following the link above.
Many of my students have asked me if people really spoke the way they do
in Shakespeare's plays. The answer is no. Shakespeare wrote
the way he did for poetic and dramatic purposes. There are many
reasons why he did this--to create a specific poetic rhythm, to emphasize
a certain word, to give a character a specific speech pattern, etc.
Let's take a look at a great example from Robinson's Unlocking Shakespeare's
I ate the sandwich.
I the sandwich ate.
Ate the sandwich I.
Ate I the sandwich.
The sandwich I ate.
The sandwich ate I.
Robinson shows us that these four words can
create six unique sentences which carry the same meaning. When you
are reading Shakespeare's plays, look for this type of unusual word
arrangement. Locate the subject, verb, and the object of the
sentence. Notice that the object of the sentence is often placed at
the beginning (the sandwich) in front of the verb (ate) and subject
(I). Rearrange the words in the order that makes the most sense to
you (I ate the sandwich). This will be one of your first steps in
making sense of Shakespeare's language.
We speak in prose (language without metrical structure). Shakespeare wrote
both prose and verse (poetry). Much of the language discussion we will have in this
guide revolves around Shakespeare's poetry. So, it is important that you understand
the following terms:
Blank Verse: unrhymed iambic pentameter.
Iambic Pentameter: five beats of alternating
unstressed and stressed syllables; ten syllables per line.
'So fair / and foul / a day
/ I have / not seen'
'The course / of true / love nev/er did
/ run smooth'